Authors: Eric Asher
Tags: #vampires, #demon, #civil war, #fairy, #fairies, #necromancer, #vesik
“Have you heard anything?” I asked.
The panda raised his head and looked directly at me
from his perch inside the birdcage.
boomed in his panda form.
I have not heard from the Smith in
“Do you think he’s okay?”
I can’t fully express the unnerving oddity of having
a ghost panda laugh at you. Happy’s skull-rattling chuckle faded.
He is a fire demon within the Burning Lands. I am certain he is
“How’s Vicky?” The question died on my lips and
turned to a scream as golden light blinded me.
Damian! Damian, answer me!
The bear’s voice cut through the storm of screams and
terror in my head for only a moment, and then chaos reigned. Gold
turned to ash, and ash to darkness, as a monstrosity that could not
be real blasted my mind. Hunched and looming, with long, silver
teeth. Its entire body squirmed and writhed, promising death to all
who dared near it.
Light swallowed the awful vision. The nightmare of a
thousand dying souls replaced it. The fire, the loss, the light. I
didn’t know if it was flames or tears that burned my face, but it
felt like my skull was coming apart at the seams. And then the
vision was gone. Only darkness remained.
I’d heard that voice before somewhere.
“What’s wrong? Answer me!”
Something shifted me, and I remembered the fire and
the screams. My eyes flashed open. Foster’s colossus-sized face was
no more than an inch away.
“Foster?” I asked, surprised to see the concern
etched into his forehead.
“Are you okay?” Foster stood up and glanced at
something above me. “You hit hard and wouldn’t wake up.”
“Hit what …” I trailed off as I tried to sit up. The
world tilted sideways and nausea threatened to overwhelm me. I
touched the throbbing back of my head, and cursed at the pain and
“Don’t move. I’ll get Aideen.”
I wasn’t going to argue.
I stayed down, closed my eyes and waited, pondering
the odd silver-toothed vision that had bared its fangs before the
souls had put me on the floor. I groaned when someone lifted my
Aideen cursed. “Damian, what did you do?”
“Fell down.” I smacked my lips together. My head felt
“He almost scalped himself on that broken snow
globe,” Foster said.
“Hold him still.”
Gentle fingers prodded the wound on the back of my
head, but it still hurt like a bitch. I winced.
“Brace yourself,” Aideen said. She didn’t give any
more warning than that.
I grunted as the darkness lost to pale white light
that brightened into a sun. I felt every shift of the skin on my
scalp as Aideen’s magic pulled the wound closed, lessening the
throbbing in my head.
I opened my eyes and squinted at the sunlight. “How’d
you get to me so fast?”
“Happy,” Foster said. “He would have come himself,
but he’s tracking something with Vicky.”
“No, he’s not. I saw him at the birdcage.”
“Likely an old impression,” Aideen said as she
inspected the healed wound on my head.
“A ghost image of a … ghost?”
“Yes,” she said with a small laugh. “Exactly
“My head still doesn’t feel right,” I said, pushing
myself off the floor and wobbling to my feet.
“Give it time. It should straighten out soon.”
“Thanks.” I squinted and shuffled to the back room,
tossing a bag of popcorn into the microwave before flopping onto
the green couch. It wasn’t more than a minute before something
large and furry slammed onto the wood floor beside me. I scratched
the cu sith’s ruff and sighed.
It was the burning that woke me. The acrid stench of
… “Popcorn! Shit!” The room devolved into shouting fairies and a
barking cu sith as I tried to battle the flames leaping out of the
“How long did you leave that in?” Foster shouted.
I smacked at the button on the corner of the door
until it swung open with a pop. A gout of flame leapt out and
singed my arm before I hopped back.
small torrent of ice flashed into the microwave, sending flaming
bits of popcorn all over the room.
Foster cursed. “It’s on fire, you idiot! Put it
“Oh my god,” I shouted. “I’m on fire!”
“Was that the door?” Aideen asked as she surveyed the
smoldering popcorn strewn about the room.
“I don’t know! I’m on fire!” I beat at the blackened
popcorn on my shoulder and jeans and finally managed to brush off
my singed arm hair.
“Damian, please. I’ve seen you much more on fire than
A full-sized, fully armored Aideen stepped through
the saloon-style doors, leaving Foster and me to deal with the
I stomped on the last few bits of fiery popcorn with
Foster’s help before I looked up and met his eyes. He grinned and I
I turned back to the microwave. “You’ve met your end
today micro—” I yelped as I grabbed the edge to pick it up and
throw it away. The metal scorched my fingers. I blasted it with
another ice incantation before smashing it into the trash can and
cursing at great length.
“I think it’s broken,” Foster said.
I took a deep breath. “We needed a new microwave
anyway. You know that damn thing burned a chimichanga? How do you
burn a frozen chimichanga?”
I pushed the doors to the front open and eyed the
guests I didn’t realize were there. Alan stood beside a light
brown-haired woman with enough gauze wrapped around her arms to
supply a small hospital. I gave the werewolf a nod before climbing
onto the stool behind the counter.
“Please excuse our dramatic host,” Aideen said,
turning to our guests.
“You’re Aideen, right?” the woman asked. She looked
nervous, but she hid it behind a drawn brow, like she expected the
fairy to lash out at her.
“I am,” Aideen said with a nod.
“You’re … full sized.”
A warm, white glow that emitted no luminescence
enveloped the fairy before she snapped into a much smaller
“We have found it to be helpful keeping the tourists
“And it's good for business,” I said.
Aideen sighed. “Can we help you find anything?”
“I’m actually here to see Damian. I have something
from … a friend.”
I beat down the last smoldering ember on my sleeve
and frowned. I leaned forward when the woman’s words sank in. “And
you needed a werewolf bodyguard to bring it here?”
“Need is a strong word,” she said.
“Ouch,” Alan said, casting me a small smile.
“Ha!” I glanced at her bandages again. She’d either
had surgery, or she was a blood mage. “You’re …” I narrowed my
eyes. “Beth, right? Elizabeth?”
“Just Beth, yes.”
Another blood mage. Cornelius’s apprentice, yes, but
when I thought about the damage that video had done, my tolerance
for blood mages wasn’t at an all-time high. I took a deep breath
and shook my head. What could she possibly be bringing into my
shop? “Well, what is it?”
Beth glanced at Aideen, but she didn’t speak. She
hesitated before nodding twice. “It’s a book.”
I glanced at Alan and Aideen before settling my gaze
on Beth. “Let’s go upstairs. We’ll have a bit more privacy.”
“I will keep watch over the store,” Aideen said. She
grimaced and looked away, and I felt the guilt gnawing at my
I started for the back room, making sure that Alan
and Beth were following me. Peanut trotted along at my heel, and I
ruffled the fur on his head. “He's a lot more calm than Bubbles,
usually. That's the one you really need to—”
The saloon-style doors burst open, and Bubbles
charged through, knocking me into the edge of the counter and
sending me to the floor with a curse. I watched upside down as
Bubbles sailed into Alan’s arms, landing with her paws around his
neck. He grunted and spat, trying to get away from her enormous
I dragged myself back onto my feet just in time for
Bubbles to charge back at me. The impact slammed me into the wall
before she vanished into the back again. If I’d felt bad before,
now it felt like the entire room spun around me.
Beth released a sharp laugh. I looked up at her and
sighed, and her mouth snapped closed.
“No respect,” I muttered, standing up again and
brushing myself off. I looked over the top of the door and nodded.
“Alright, they’re both back in their hole.”
“How far under the shop have they dug?” Alan
“Straight to hell, I think.”
“What?” Beth asked, following us through the
saloon-style doors. I caught her staring at the old grandfather
clock, ticking in the relative silence. Bubbles and Peanut
scratched at the floor beneath us.
I pointed at the jagged hole in the wall. “They
carved out a den. It’s …”
“Huge,” Alan said. “At least the building didn’t
I flashed the werewolf a grin. “So optimistic with
that ‘yet,’ Alan. Come on.” I started up the staircase, turned at
the landing by the back door, and led Beth and Alan the rest of the
way up the carpeted steps.
“So, what did Koda send you over here with?”
I looked back when Beth didn’t respond. She still
stood at the end of the bookshelves, staring up at the hall of
tomes that ran from one end of the building to the other. Maybe
she’d be one of those not-so-bad blood mages. Ashley liked her, and
that spoke volumes in my book.
“Beth?” I said, lowering myself onto one of the wide
dark leather chairs around the low oak table. Alan pulled up
another chair. Beth paused by the section of shelves that held two
dozen of our oldest books on Wiccans. She started to reach for one,
and then stopped.
“Beth?” I said.
“Sorry. I just … you have more books on witches than
I squinted and nodded as I tried to remember the
number. “I think we have about two hundred and sixty of them now.
You’re welcome to borrow them, outside of a few of the more
She stood in one place and stared at me until I
started to fidget. I don’t mind eye contact, but damn, not blinking
is unnerving. The moment passed and she hurried down the aisle.
“Thank you. That’s very generous.” She dropped into one of the open
chairs, and pushed down on the deep leather.
“Good for naps,” Alan said, stretching his legs out
with a lazy smile.
I gave Alan a slow nod. “You’ve learned my most
secret of secrets. You can never leave here alive.”
“Just ignore him,” Alan said. “He has a terrible
sense of humor.”
Beth gave the werewolf a somewhat nervous smile and
unfolded her purse. Golden light filled the void within, and I sat
I cursed when the light exploded in the dimly lit
nook into a blinding gold sun. “What did you bring into this
house?” I held up my hand, ready to call a shield. When nothing
happened, I reached for the shelf beside me.
“Oh, not that thing,” Alan said as I picked up a
brown, shriveled ear.
I held it in my palm and reached out to Beth.
“What is it?” she asked.
“A silence charm. No one will hear us.”
“What's it made out of?” She asked, pressing her palm
against it with less hesitation than I’d expected. The fleshy ear
pressed into our palms, and Beth twitched.
Alan took her left hand and the world fell
“No one can hear us now,” I said. “Tell me, what is
this?” I nodded at the book.
Beth frowned at the glowing tome. “Koda said it’s the
Book of Blood.”
I froze. “To unlock the Book that Bleeds?” But Koda
had said nothing. Had he found it? Was this the key to the Black
Book? “That's a lost text. That book is legend. It can’t be real.
It was mentioned in the Black Book, but I never thought ... the
Book of Blood … it’s like a key or something, right?”
“Yes,” she said.
No one spoke again until Beth broke the silence.
“Koda said to unite it with the Black Book. That’s all I know.”
I spun around to the wall. Below the shelf was an
ancient trunk, warded against all who were not bonded to it. Only
Zola and I could see it and open it. Beth leaned forward to keep
her hand against the silence charm.
When I turned back to the table with the Black Book
in my hand, Beth sucked in a breath.
“That's it?” she asked.
I nodded and ran a hand over the rough leather. I sat
the book on the table and leaned back. Beth frowned and tried to
pull away from it.
“I'm sorry,” I said, leaning forward and shifting the
book to the opposite edge of the table. “I didn't realize how much
it was bothering you.”
Beth let go of Alan's hand and held out the golden
book. I slid it from her grip and gasped. The golden glow swelled
and brightened until it felt like it might burn my hand. I shouted,
and dropped the book and the silence charm as a thousand voices
burst to life inside my head. They still screamed, even so far from
tragedy. I whispered “quiet” over and over again as the voices
created a horrible screaming silence all their own.
Sound rushed back into the room.
Alan stood beside me as the cacophony relented. “Are
you okay? Is it the souls?”
“Souls?” Beth asked.
“You don’t have to tell her that,” I said through
Alan continued as though I hadn’t spoken a word. “The
souls of those who died at Gettysburg attacked Vicky, the little
ghost.” He paused and frowned. “Attacked may be the wrong word, but
they swarmed her. Damian took them away.”
“How do you ‘take’ them ...” Her brow creased and she
“Yeah,” I said. “I have some extra voices in my head
now. Sometimes it’s worse than others.” I cringed at a sudden lance
of pain before taking a deep breath.